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A personal memoir
Newsletter, autumn 2005
Nobody who has attended any of the biannual EASA (European Association
of Social Anthropologists) meetings could possibly have failed to notice
the powerful presence of an energetic, playful man at the centre of every
social event. Handsome like a film star, with a huge laughter and a mischievous
twinkle, Eduardo Archetti could sometimes seem slightly misplaced at solemn
academic gatherings, but he always revealed himself to be as professionally
competent and intellectually alert as he was funny. Over the years, I
have noticed that whenever Eduardo’s name has come up in conversations
with foreign colleagues, a smile has always appeared on their faces, faintly
reflecting their fond memories of an encounter with him. Such was Eduardo’s
effect on others. It was impossible not to love him.
On 6 June 2005, Eduardo passed away. He had been ill with cancer for some
time, but everybody hoped and believed that he would recover. His energy
and joie-de-vivre were so immense that it seemed impossible that he could
die. Yet this is what we now have to reconcile ourselves with. Never again
will Eduardo’s acute remarks and jokes, his personal warmth and
intellectual shrewdness enliven his surroundings.
Eduardo’s premature death represents a devastating loss to his family
and friends, to the EASA, which he did so much to build up, to Norwegian
anthropology and the Oslo department, where he was the most important
personality for more than two decades; and Norway has become a colder
and less interesting place without him in it. He was the life and soul
of the party.
Eduardo was born in Santiago del Estero, Argentina during the Second World
War. (As an adult, he spoke four languages fluently, all of them in a
distinctly Santiagueño way.) Coming from a cultured middle-class
family, he pursued studies at the University of Buenos Aires before deciding
to take a doctorate in Paris, where he would work with Maurice Godelier.
Eduardo's doctoral thesis was a study of transformations in Argentine
agriculture, and it was influenced by both major currents in Marxist anthropology
– political economy and structural Marxism.
Before completing his doctorate, Eduardo met the Norwegian anthropologist
Kristi Anne Stølen, who became his lifelong companion, his intellectual
collaborator, and the mother of his two children. The couple decided to
settle in Norway in 1976, and Eduardo rapidly became a central actor in
Norwegian development research, Latin American studies and social anthropology.
His easygoing manner could be deceptive, for he was extremely disciplined
and had strong leadership qualities which revealed themselves in the Norwegian
Association of Anthropologists, where he served as chairman for a period,
at the Department of Social Anthropology in Oslo, where he was head of
department twice, in the EASA, and elsewhere. He enjoyed his wine, his
football and the other good things in life, but he also worked hard. When
I arrived at work in the morning, Eduardo was usually there already, ready
for a five-minute break and a chat.
As a scholar in anthropology, Eduardo will be best remembered for his
writings and lectures on masculinity, sport and Argentine identities,
but his interests were wide-ranging, almost limitless.
A quality Eduardo shared with one of his intellectual heroes, namely Marcel
Mauss, was his generous interest in, and engagement with, the work of
others. For many years, he was both my most devastating critic and my
strongest supporter, and I know that others felt the same way. For Eduardo
was a sharer, not a keeper. His contagious laughter, his acute insights,
his unselfish attitude to knowledge and his astonishing breadth of reading
were like a magic powder which invigorated the Department of Social Anthropology
in Oslo and made it a truly exciting place to be for his colleagues and
generations of students.
Adapting to Norwegian society and culture was never easy for Eduardo.
In spite of his professional success – he soon became a highly respected
and beloved professor of anthropology, and an occasional media commentator
on Latin American issues and football – and his easy, humorous relationship
with all kinds of people, he always felt an alien in Norway. Most of the
time, he compensated by making jokes at our expense, thereby making Norwegians
laugh at themselves; but he also did some serious analytical work while
trying to make sense of his adopted country, where the dominant temperament
and values were so different from Latin America. Eduardo appreciated many
aspects of Scandinavian society; the gender equality, the relative lack
of corruption, the general decency – but he also bemoaned the hypocrisy
and sheepishness of the public sphere, the stubbornly parochial nationalism,
the moral supremacism, the bad food and – not least – the
(locally) overrated football.
Eduardo’s funeral service, a secular ritual, was given on 14 June
in Oslo. The church was packed with colleagues and friends, relatives
and students; hundreds of people who each had their own indelible memories
of Eduardo. Melancholic music from Argentina was interspersed with a small
handful of speeches. Perhaps the most moving speech was given by Eduardo’s
brother-in-law, Kristi Anne Stølen’s brother. Relating how
his sister brought this foreign man home in the 1970s, he painted a fascinating
picture of the relationship between Eduardo and his in-laws as it unfolded
at Misund, a remote hamlet on the west coast of Norway. This sophisticated,
well dressed man with his urbane manners, foreign newspapers and many
books was utterly out of place in Misund, yet he took a vivid interest
in «women’s affairs», notably cooking, and he would
soon bring herbs and salad ingredients with him on his visits with Kristi
Anne. Concluding his speech, unable to keep the tears back, Eduardo’s
brother-in-law said, «He was a comrade, a mate.»
In the days and weeks following Eduardo’s death, we received many
letters of condolence from colleagues abroad. All of them were unique,
personal testimonies to the great man. His colleagues from Argentina described
him as their guardian angel, reminding us of his crucial role in reconstructing
Argentine anthropology after the fall of the Junta. Others told personal
anecdotes, tiny fragments for the mosaic. One said that Eduardo shone
like the sun. I think that sentence made us cry more bitterly than any
of the others, because it was so beautiful and so true. We are slowly
beginning to realise that Eduardo is not coming back, but we will forever
remain grateful for everything he gave us. Like Maradona, he was a divinely
gifted centre-forward, but with the additional qualities of the midfield
Thomas Hylland Eriksen